The tiny community of Pacoima, at the north end of Los Angeles, suffers from nearly every imaginable obstacle to a healthy urban environment. That means, for starters, lead paint, freeway traffic, airports, landfills, diesel trucks, chemical manufacturing, power plants, heavy industry, and overcrowding. It also means the linguistic and cultural differences that have historically defined the largely Latino community — and separated it from potential allies.

These days, that gulf is narrowing. Through the efforts of Pacoima Beautiful, a nonprofit organization of Pacoima residents and their allies, the three-square-mile community is working with elected officials to clean up its environment. At the same time, the group is empowering Pacoima residents to organize internally, pairing former gang members with artists to paint murals, and training community mothers to educate fellow citizens and area doctors about the health hazards of pollution.

In this virtual walking tour, Marlene Grossman, above, and two other leaders of Pacoima Beautiful show that this once-beleaguered neighborhood is truly becoming beautiful — both as a place to live, and as a model of effective community organizing.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.